My friend Hanna Rosin has such a deliciously subversive piece in the latest Atlantic that I've spent days over my witch's cauldron of a laptop diabolically trying to figure out which plums to excerpt for maximum outrage. The piece is called, (tee hee) The Case Against Breastfeeding. Pissed off yet? Good.
So, where to begin? What will most offend the tender sensibilities of MoJo's oh-so-progressive readers? How about this, the subhead?
In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it's a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?
Wha? I never miss Hanna's work, but this time, she had me at "instrument of misery." I just hope the drool doesn't crash my keyboard. The science behind 'breast is best' is bogus, just another conspiracy to keep those of us with vaginas barefoot and topless in public? Yes, as it turns out—the science is bogus. Can't tell that from, oh, what our pediatricians and 'lactation consultants' tell us, could we?
I only breastfed both my kids off and on, the first for about six months, the second for at most four. Why? There was a minor (though, with great effort fixable) health issue. But mostly it just felt so selfish. There was my then husband and my mom, both of whom had to sit there tapping their feet with lust to get at those luscious babies who spent most of their time latched onto me like lovely little leeches.
In the beginning, I pumped just so they could have that special feeding/bonding time with those precious bundles gripping so tightly with those little fingers. Truly—breastfeeding felt selfish. Which means that more or less subconsciously, I just didn't buy that they'd grow up to be hunchbacked mental deficients without my precious boob juice. There simply had to be too many other variables at play. I'm almost 50, so you know I wasn't breastfed, and I'm pretty smart and pretty healthy, like most folks of my generation. And remember—our parents drank and smoked the whole time (though not my mom. But it wasn't because she thought it would hurt us. Booze and cigs just were never her thing.)
My mom couldn't help me with the breastfeeding and, with my ineptitude, the little buggers hurt the hell out of me. I dutifully visited and revisited the lactation consultant but kept peppering her with questions about why formula was so bad, and how much mixing formula with breast milk might hurt them. Finally, she laid down the law:
"Look, I'm not here to tell you it's OK not to breastfeed, Debra."
I thought about that for a minute. Then said, "Fair enough." So I pumped less and less and joined the Enfamil crowd.
As Hanna admits in her piece, feeding time didn't feel any more special to me than any of the other hours I spent dreamily nibbling their toes and pretending to make stuffed animals dance. The time that was most special to me was, after eating, when they'd happily lose consciousness and burrow into my chest. So warm, so content, so secure. That time was sublime to me, that was when I felt most maternal. Breastfeeding was a time-consuming painful chore I didn't think worth it.
And when the folks in my tony, Ivy League crowd gave me the stink-eye as I whipped out a bottle, I just shrugged it off. When you have kids, the world is full of folks telling you you're doing it all wrong. But unless they're willing to walk the floor with my kids all night when they're sick, they can just suck it. Breastfeeding just wasn't high on my list of priorities in an over-stressed life. Besides, I had to work like a dog. Breastfeeding made a difficult career even more difficult, and something simply had to give.
Which gets me to the excerpt I'll leave you with, in hopes that you'll beat feet, in high dudgeon of course, to read the piece in full:
The Bitch in the House, published in 2002, reframed The Feminine Mystique for my generation of mothers. We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. In my set, no husband tells his wife that it is her womanly duty to stay home and nurse the child. Instead, both parents together weigh the evidence and then make a rational, informed decision that she should do so. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on. Recently, my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?
The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women's lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let's say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That's nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is "free," I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It's only free if a woman's time is worth nothing.
How dare she? What an awful woman! Her children should be taken away! Or, maybe, we should all just mind our own business.